Kenseth, Newman, Bowyer, Biffle still in Chase Grid with 2 races to go

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Bristol Motor Speedway had the potential to turn the Race to the Chase upside down.

But instead, all four winless drivers that went into Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race holding a Chase Grid position not only left Bristol still on the Grid but having increased their points cushions.

Here’s a look at how those on the Chase bubble fared in Thunder Valley…

13. 20-Matt Kenseth, 751 points

Finished 3rd at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 13th, +58 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 13th, +83 over 17th

Kenseth had a near-miss on Saturday night at Bristol, but he’s pretty much set to go into the post-season on points after a solid third-place effort that helped him add 25 markers to his cushion over 17th place. If you’ve had his name penciled in on the Grid, go ahead and erase that – then put it in ink.

14. 31-Ryan Newman, 710 points

Finished 13th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 14th, +28 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 14th, +42 over 17th

Now, if you’ve also penciled in Newman’s name, I’d keep the pen handy for next weekend at Atlanta. On Saturday, Newman hovered around the Top 10 for much of the night before a tight handling condition caused him to fade to 13th – but he still banked 14 points for his cushion. He could be a dark horse for Atlanta, where he finished in the Top-5 last year and where his Richard Childress Racing team recently tested.

15. 15-Clint Bowyer, 699 points

Finished 17th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 15th, +21 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 15th, +31 over 17th

After taking damage to his car as part of his involvement in Saturday’s first major incident, Bowyer eventually dropped off the lead lap in the second half of the race. But he was still able to salvage a Top-20 finish that enabled him to bank 10 points.

16. 16-Greg Biffle, 694 points

Finished 10th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 16th, +9 over 17th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 16th, +26 over 17th

Biffle’s picked up his pace at the right time. His 10th-place run on Saturday was his fourth consecutive Top-10 finish (fifth at Pocono, eighth at Watkins Glen, 10th at Michigan) and it was enough for a 17-point swing in his favor. The Biff had some luck on his side at Bristol; contact from Paul Menard on Lap 372 left his rear bumper cover dangling to the side, but a caution came out just a few laps later, giving his No. 16 squad a chance to remove it in the pits.

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17. 42-Kyle Larson, 668 points

Finished 12th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 19th, -24 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 17th, -26 behind 16th

Larson’s weekend at Bristol was one of survival – but survive, he did. After crashing his primary car in qualifying, Larson had to start Saturday’s race from the rear of the field in a backup. Following a solid opening run into the Top 20, he then took some damage in the Kyle Busch-Aric Almirola crash on Lap 125. But Larson recovered from the setback and turned in a 12th-place effort, which was enough to push him two positions up the Chase standings.

18. 5-Kasey Kahne, 661 points

Finished 35th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 17th, -9 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 18th, -33 behind 16th

Normally solid at Bristol, Kahne was looked at as a potential surprise for Saturday. Instead, a loose wheel caused him to pit from the Top 5 in mid-race and fall off the lead lap. Then later in the race, problems with the right front tire forced Kahne behind the wall around 100 laps to go. He returned to the track to finish 35th, but took a 24-point hit and fell one spot in the Chase standings. Atlanta may be another opportunity for a win, however, as he’s taken two victories on the 1.5-mile oval (2006, 2009).

19. 3-Austin Dillon, 654 points

Finished 28th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 18th, -22 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 19th, -40 behind 16th

Dillon had a rough night from the very beginning, sliding all the way back to 40th and going one lap down in the early stages due to poor handling. He soldiered on to a 28th-place result, but now he’s got to go hard for a win this coming weekend at Atlanta. Will that aforementioned RCR test session help him contend?

20. 27-Paul Menard, 649 points

Finished 9th at Bristol
Chase Grid Status before Bristol: 21st, -46 behind 16th
Chase Grid Status after Bristol: 20th, -45 behind 16th

Menard was running in the Top-5 late, but fell back a few spots after the final restart. The 9th-place result got him up to 20th in the Chase standings, but his points deficit only shrank by one marker. Like with RCR teammate Dillon, Atlanta will be big.

Risi Competizione confirms multiple race absence from IMSA

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The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE will miss several upcoming IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races, starting at Watkins Glen International next weekend.

The team has plans to return to the GT Le Mans class later this year, but hasn’t said when.

Risi’s absence was first indicated when IMSA released the Watkins Glen entry list earlier this week. It takes the sole Ferrari in class out of it for a handful of races; the pair of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella had a best finish of third so far this season.

“Following an extremely challenging first half of 2017, most recently at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I have decided to withdraw the Risi Competizione race team from part of the 2017 IMSA season in order to consolidate resources and to reflect on future racing programs,” Team Principal Giuseppe Risi said in a release.

Risi’s crash at Le Mans was with a separate 488 GTE chassis, not its full-season one.

But the IMSA full-season one sustained back-to-back hits at Long Beach and Circuit of The Americas. Then, the brand new car took a beating after Matthieu Vaxiviere came over on top of Pierre Kaffer’s No. 82 car going into a chicane on the Mulsanne Straight.

Kaffer was sore but OK and is in Road America this weekend for Pirelli World Challenge GT action, where he competes in the No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Rossi tops opening practice at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Alexander Rossi led the opening 45-minute practice session for this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America, in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti-Herta Autosport.

The young American has always liked this track, as this was one of the tracks he had past experience on prior to his debut season in IndyCar.

At the 4.014-mile circuit, Rossi posted a best time of 1:43.3285, clear of three Team Penske Chevrolets of Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. Scott Dixon completed the top five.

“It’s early; it’s a good way to start,” Rossi told IndyCar Radio after the session. “We’ve known we had a fast car. We just haven’t executed. We want our first win under our belt.”

Only the top 10 drivers down to Helio Castroneves in 10th were within one second, at 0.9964 of a second.

Eighth-placed Ryan Hunter-Reay brought out an early end to the session with an off-course excursion, beached at Turn 14. He was OK but the session ended a minute or two early.

Robert Wickens, in his first official Verizon IndyCar Series session filling in for Mikhail Aleshin at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, was 20th at 1:45.6823. That was within a tenth of the returning Esteban Gutierrez at 1:45.6257, for Dale Coyne Racing.

Wickens’ teammate James Hinchcliffe was sixth in this session. Meanwhile Gutierrez’s teammate Ed Jones debuted a new Walter Payton tribute helmet; Payton was Dale Coyne’s former business partner and had his first IndyCar race as co-owner here. The late Chicago Bears running back was, of course, one of the best running backs in NFL history. Jones’ decision to wear a Bears helmet in Elkhart Lake, not far from Green Bay, is a brave one!

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owner Sam Schmidt updated Aleshin’s status when speaking to IndyCar Radio during the session.

“Supposedly, he’s on a flight. He got his visa from Paris. He’s supposed to land in Chicago tonight. We’ll see,” he said.

“Yeah up until yesterday morning we thought Mikhail would come in yesterday, and cruise normal fashion. Then his passport didn’t show up. We didn’t know if a day, two or three days. Called half a dozen guys. It was a bit of a scramble. We already had Robert’s seat, so that was convenient. Who could get here the quickest and get in the car. He hasn’t driven here in 10 years. But he’s getting up to speed quickly.”

Times are below.

Liberty planning evolution, not revolution, with future F1 calendars

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GENEVA, Switzerland – Formula 1 CEO and chairman Chase Carey says that the sport’s owner, Liberty Media, is focusing on evolution instead of revolution when it comes to forming race schedules in the coming years.

Liberty completed its takeover of F1 back in January, with Carey replacing Bernie Ecclestone at the helm of the sport.

Widespread changes have been expected as Liberty looks to increase F1’s footprint and reach in key markets such as the United States, with a number of new races expected as a result.

A first provisional calendar for the 2018 season was published on Monday, featuring the 21 races expected, up one from 2017 after the addition of France and Germany, and the loss of Malaysia.

When asked by NBC Sports if 2019 would be the first F1 calendar that Liberty could put its stamp on, Carey responded by saying he believed it was already clear on the 2018 schedule.

“I think that stamp exists today. I think we’re very proud of the calendar,” Carey said.

“We view this as our calendar. I might expect over time the calendar will evolve a little bit, but most of the races we have are multi-year.

“You’re not going have in any one year, you’re not going to have a dramatic change because most of the agreements are multi-year agreements.

“I think very much this is a calendar we feel good about, and I would say it’s our calendar. It’s not anybody else’s.”

Carey said that a total revamp of the calendar was not realistic given the contracts for races that are already in place, a well as important factors such as the August summer break that gives teams a chance to shut down for a couple of weeks during a busy season.

“There are realities to deals we have in place. Some races are in historical places that are important, and there’s a reason they’re historically there,” Carey said.

“They’re places and races we’re very proud of that want to be in a particular time of the year, and obviously that’s important for us if they’re there. So I think in saying we’re burdened with some construct we inherited, I don’t look at it that way.

“There’s a logic to this calendar. European races are largely clustered in this period from mid May to early September. You’ve got your traditional August break. I think for us, our focus, I said in Montreal, we feeling good about the calendar.

“I think we believe we can continue to improve it, but I think there will be an evolution, not a re-doing. I think our focus is really making the races everything they can be.

“I think this calendar issue probably gets more weight and focus and people try to make more out of it than it is. I think our biggest priority is making these events, we have 21 events we have this year, everything they can and should and we hope they be.”

Alonso, Vandoorne get grid drops in Baku after power unit changes

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McLaren Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne are set to start this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the last row of the grid after the FIA confirmed that both will receive a 15-place drop from their qualifying position.

Alonso and Vandoorne are yet to score a single point through the opening seven races of the season amid ongoing difficulties for engine partner Honda, whose power unit has lacked both performance and reliability so far this season.

Alonso’s struggles continued in practice in Baku on Friday as he was forced to park up at the side of the track during FP2 with an apparent engine issue, adding to McLaren’s ongoing plight.

The Spaniard said in McLaren’s race preview that he expected to take a grid penalty for changing a number of parts on his power unit, with the drop being officially confirmed by the FIA on Friday.

Both Alonso and Vandoorne will take a 15-place grid drop from their final qualifying position on Friday, meaning they are likely to start from the final row of the grid.

The only other driver with a grid penalty in Baku is Carlos Sainz Jr., who will drop three places as punishment for causing a collision at the start of the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago.